Paddle-to-the-Sea, originally published in 1941, is a one-of-a-kind story about a little carving of an Indian in a canoe that is sent off from North of Lake Superior in Canada for a four-year trek through each of the Great Lakes, through the St. Laurence River and finally into the Atlantic Ocean.
Beautifully written and fabulously illustrated, the story takes readers on an in-depth (and rather lengthy!) story of the Great Lakes region told through the "eyes" of an inanimate wooden toy as it encounters all kinds of weather, wild animals, helpful people, a forest fire, and much more. It may sound like a strange premise, but it works, and all of my children have been enchanted with the story, though it may help that, living in the Great Lakes region, a number of the places are quite familiar to us.
In addition to colorful illustrations of various locations from the story, the text is often surrounded with smaller maps and technical illustrations of locks and various geographical features of the region. We've found this to work best as a read-aloud as the sheer length tends to be intimidating to the younger set (and often break up the reading over different parts of the day). It's probably a good hour of reading.